INdustry: "TV at the Top" of the Engagement Model

For me, one of the key takeaways from this summer's TV of Tomorrow Show (TVOT) was a marked change in the creative model for companion content. At TVOT 2012, much--if not all--of the focus was on "second-screen" apps, i.e. apps that run on smartphones and tablets and that are designed to accompany content displayed on TV. At TVOT 2013, it was clear that the second-screen mantra had evolved. The new mantra? Multiscreen.

Why? Well, some would argue that it's simply the logical progression. Smart TV's are becoming more powerful and, with automatic content recognition (ACR), application developers can now syndicate companion content to the first screen.

However, there's a bit more afoot. Beyond simple logic, there's also a strong business reason to widen the platform. To date, second-screen applications have generally failed to deliver meaningfully large audiences. For sure, there are exceptions: some shows have attracted large followings for their second-screen apps. But those shows are the exceptions and there are now many reports of companion apps generating audience engagement rates of less than 1%. For a TV industry based on reach, sub-1% audience participation will not translate into continued investment in companion content.

First screen to the rescue? Well, sorta. First-screen content apps have historically fared far better. Audience engagement rates on older, more limited platforms have frequently reached high single digits. One programmer reports historical results of 8-22%. Recent tests of apps on the smart-TV platforms have shown mid- to high-teens for engagement rates on syndicated content that had sub-0.5% engagement on second screen.

This might suggest we simply scrap the second-screen efforts and focus on first screen. This is, on close inspection, a rather serious mistake for at least two reasons. First, there is an important creative tension on the first screen. The people who make TV are not currently making it to be squeezed back or overlaid. It's not a world of purists--bugs and touts and tune-ins and graphics abound in the lower quarter of the screen--but many showrunners will resist large, extended, complex apps sharing their screen. Multiscreen apps that launch on the first screen and then quickly transition to the second screen allow app developers to build powerful, deep applications while preserving--at least for now--the sanctity of the first screen to enthrall and engage.

Second, we have already seen many prototypes and creative studies that leverage the many differentiated virtues of the second screen: personalization, robust UX, portability, and so forth.  

In the next 18 months, the number of ACR-enabled smart TV's will grow from the current base of a couple million to 15-20 million. As that happens, I expect that applications developers will start to use the smart TV to drive reach for companion content and enhanced TV advertising. Campaigns will be pushed to the screen with what will be polite calls to action in the lower quarter or lower eighth of the screen. From there, with the engagement model established, we can expect a great diversity of strategies to employ each of the screens for what they do best.    

This reach capture using the smart TV as the launch point for the application engagement model is what we refer to as "TV at the Top."   

It's not a statement of primacy. It's simply a practical suggestion that developers, showrunners and brand managers use the smart TV to do what it does best--which is to kick things off in a multiscreen world.


Michael Collette recently changed hats and is now the CEO of  Cognitive Networks, market-leading provider of ACR services on smart TV's. Limited public information is available about the company. To learn more, contact Michael directly at